You may have noticed that we have been sorta absent from this space this week. Our apologies. Alex has a great excuse. She is on a wonderful ski trip to Winter Park, jealous! She's having a great time and has sent us some pictures:

Alex's view on the drive to her hotel.
Alex has sore legs after a few days of skiing, so this is her on her way to go shopping.
Me, well I don't have such a glamorous excuse. I have had one thing after another pile up on me this week and have had to let a lot of things slide. But, like I had predicted last week, I did do a fair amount of sewing this past weekend.

I started Sesame Street embroidered pillow cases for the boys. The only thing that really kept me from cranking away on these was a trip to the store for some Elmo, Oscar and Cookie Monster colored floss. But here is a peek at the project soon after I started:

The start of the Sesame Street pillowcases.
I also have the pieces cut out for some flannel doggie pajamas for my Finn. He is in definite need of some elastic-waisted pajama pants (hello potty training) so I really have to get a few pairs of these sewn up as soon as possible. Of course, I bought enough flannel for little Bogart to have some too. He's very concerned about "equity" these days!

I love sewing from a pattern.
So, I gotta go, I'm off to work on my sewing projects! Talk to you soon!


Hey, listen up people!

It has been a cold, windy week here in Wisconsin. Not being too outdoorsy of a gal, I spend a lot of my time going from house- to car- to work- to car- to home. It makes the time ripe for 2 things in my world - crafting and listening to podcasts.

In lieu of running errands or doing anything that requires being out in the elements for too long, I choose to knit at my desk (or a cafe) at my lunch hour and listen to a podcast or two. And, if it is completely necessary for me to run an errand through this frozen tundra, I can plug my ipod into my car stereo and listen while I'm driving around and waiting for the car to warm up.

Even this bird on my window feeder looks cold as hell.

So, since I've been listening to a lot of podcasts lately, I thought I'd tell you about my knitting top 3.

Cast On by Brenda Dayne
Brenda's show about knitting (and there is also some talk about cooking, dying, designing, sewing, etc.) is produced so beautifully. She obviously puts hours an hours of time into each segment because the show listens like someone is reading to you from a really good magazine. And Brenda's voice... smooth yet expressive. I could happily listen to this woman read the dictionary. Luckily, she just tells stories about her life as an American ex-pat in Wales and reads essays on making and life that always have me riveted.

CraftLit by Heather Ordover
This show is so much fun. Heather spends the first half of the show talking about her life and her crafting (usually very knitting focused), and the second half of the show is her teaching us about the chapter of a classic novel that she plays directly after. She does a wonderful job of introducing the chapters and gives us great insight on the more interesting aspects of the book. Heather is a teacher, and it is really cool the way she teaches to her audience. She knows she's not talking to teens in this podcast, so the things she chooses to point out are always relevant to her very crafty listeners.

Electric Sheep by Hoxton Handmade
Maybe it's because I'm a Midwesterner. I dunno. But man, Hoxton's life in London seems so darn glamorous. She tells us about trips to the Victoria and Albert Museum, biking around the streets of London, the London theatre community, and more, along with her knitting talk. She has this lovely, posh (Mary Poppins like) accent so anything she says sounds so sophisticated. She's witty and clever and a whole lot of fun to listen to. She is also an excellent knitter with very good taste.

Now, I know I promised to share some of my recent sewing adventures with you today... but, you might just have to wait until next week for that. I would like to get a little further along on what I'm doing so that I can give you a more complete view of the projects. But, here is a little peek from one project...

Soon-to-be pocket!
Have a wonderful weekend everyone! I intend on hitting the sewing machine pretty hard and sharing it with you... wish me luck!


My Stash

Today at lunch, Cassandra and I were talking about stash - that pile of yarn or fabric or beads or [name your craft item] that doesn't have any projects associated with it. Stash can really be a burden.

Ooo! Shiny!
I think that most crafters are like me. When you first start a new hobby, you're enamored of the supplies and there's an undeniable siren song that happens every time you walk into the store. The aisle containing your current obsession calls your name - "come! just look at all the beautiful colors and textures! you don't have to BUY anything...."  But, of course you DO buy something because, really, you might never be able to find that stunning wedgewood blue mohair ever again.

The most immediate problem with this behavior is that you quickly start chewing up storage space with stuff that doesn't have a purpose. The next problem is that you've just burdened yourself with having to find a project that fits your supplies. This is the exact definition of putting the cart before the horse.

Not my actual stash
I have three distinct stashes - yarn, fabric, and beads. I haven't actually made any jewelry in about eighteen months but I can't bring myself to sell or gift any of my beads. I love them all like little, round, semi-precious children. Most of the fabrics I bought had intention behind them at some point but that intention has been long forgotten, and now I'm not even sure I like the fabric anymore. My yarn stash grew, primarily, from gifts. In the beginning, I bought yarn as the spirit moved me but I quickly learned about the dangers of doing so.

Yarn is really project specific - more so than fabric or beads, in my opinion. For any given project you need the right weight, style, and yardage of yarn and, if you're picky like me, you also need the "right" color. It might be easier to work through stash if I wrote my own patterns but...

85% of my yarn stash
My resolution for 2010 was that I wouldn't buy any yarn that didn't have an associated project. I also made a pact to visit my stash before I went out and bought any new yarn, just to ensure that I didn't have something suitable in my possession already. This was a really successful exercise and, truthfully, I don't have a bad stash anymore. I still have more than I'm comfortable with but at least it only takes up one "organizer" in my craft room. I've met people who have entire ROOMS filled with stash. I have nightmares about these people going into their stash rooms and being consumed by their yarn.

The lack of storage space in my house requires me to be parsimonious with my stashes. As I mentioned in a previous post, I've turned one room into a craft room so I've recently been forced to assess my stash and figure out how best to store it in the new space. This exercise has been a good one in that I'm much more aware of what I currently have on hand and it's spurred some really creative ideas about what to do with all of it. I'm talking yarn and fabric here...

The beads remain untouched. They sure are pretty to look at though.

- Alex

Irons in the Fire

This weekend was two solid days of ADD. I couldn't seem to find a project that would hold my attention and that's just not (normally) me. Maybe it's because I'm excited about all the projects in my head... or maybe I'm overwhelmed with the stuff that really needs to get done. All I know is, I have five things in motion and none of them are near complete. To top it off, bouncing from project to project created an interesting comedy of errors.

Lets start with the Toddler Moc-A-Socs by Bekah Knits that I am making for the two littles:

This slipper pattern was calling to me from my Ravelry queue. It was the siren song of the "perfect little project" that would break the monotony of the large one I am working on. Friday, on my lunch hour, I ran to the nearest yarn shop and picked up some gorgeous Spud & Chloe yarn so that I could get started right away. I was motivated and ready to bang this small project out quickly. Ah...the best laid plans...

After dinner I got out my fabulous swift and ball winder and started winding the yarn. Yeah... halfway through the hank of yarn, the ball on the winder flies off and everything is a tangled mess. I thought, "hmmm, must be a fluke" so I just wound the rest of it by hand and set up hank #2. Again, flying yarn ball. And guess what happened on hank #3? You know I had flying balls of yarn everywhere. I'd like to point out that I have successfully used this contraption many times, so I'm sure it's user-error. Frankly, it better be user error or my love-affair with my swift and winder will be over.

Sadly half-hand-wound ball of yarn.
But, I wasn't daunted! I was going to cast-on as soon as everyone was tucked in bed. I went to get all of the supplies I needed and realized that I did not own a pair of #2 straight needles. Wa-wa-waaaaa. Another delay.

I finally got correct-sized needles on Sunday morning, thanks to my fabulous errand-running husband, and cast on Sunday night while watching TV. I knit two rows and decided that I was too brain-dead to start a new project successfully. So here is where it sits:

Yes, this will be slippers.
I have to admit, my enthusiasm for this project is waning a bit after all this. It's hard to stay upbeat when it seems like you're being thwarted at every turn. But, I will not be swayed. My kids feet are cold so I'm going get these done - eventually. (Hopefully before spring.) On a positive note, when I was feeling too beat to start the slippers, I was able to add a few inches on to my Vineyard Wrap during TV time. So, you know... I got that going for me.
Vineyard Wrap at 17 inches.
In addition to these two knitting projects, I worked on three sewing projects this weekend as well. Because this post is getting a bit long, I'll share those with you later this week. However, let me leave you with this... even an experienced seamstress of nearly 20 years (that'd be me) can still manage to cut out pattern pieces upside down. And the comedy of errors continues...


Facebook for Knitters

Every other Tuesday there's a group of really amazing knitters who meet at a bar near my house. And, when I say "near" I mean, like, two blocks away. This is fantastic for a number of reasons, including:
  • I can walk there.
  • I can drink there.
  • I can eat there (the bar has awesome food.)
  • I can commiserate with other knitters.
Plus, you know that any group of women who choose to meet at a bar are going to be fun...

One night the group was meeting and there was a woman there who was a bit of a Luddite. She lived in the country, home-schooled her kids, and did a whole lot of do-it-yourself stuff like knitting. She had a computer but didn't use it for much other than home-school work and to get info for her crafts and projects.

The group was having an animated conversation about Facebook when, suddenly, our country friend piped up and said "So...Facebook? That's like Ravelry for non-knitters, right?"

And...all the knitters and crocheters who read this blog are laughing their heads off right now.

For the uninitiated, is an amazing social network for knitters and crocheters. Like any social network you build a profile page, you "friend" others, you join groups, you participate in discussion threads, etc. Unlike other social networks, Ravelry is also a repository for information about your yarn and needle stash and is a resource for thousands upon thousands of patterns.

The patterns section is where Ravelry really transcends any normal social networking site. This is where social networking meets super-valuable content. The way it works is this:
  • You search for a pattern - say...cardigan sweaters or baby blankets
  • You narrow your pattern search with a variety of choices including whether or not the patterns is free.
  • You scroll through the huge list of patterns that the search returns - most with thumbnail photos so you can actually see what the item looks like when it's done.
  • You pick one you like and, once on the pattern's "homepage" (which is nothing more than the project page of the first person to post their work on this pattern,) you get tons of information about the pattern itself.
  • At this point, you can download the pattern, "favorite" it, or put it in your "to do" queue.
  • Finally, (here's the best part) you can click a tab called "projects" and see other people's versions of the same pattern!  
The "projects" tab is invaluable beyond belief. You can see the end result of other people's efforts and get tips for making the pattern better/easier/etc.

Yes, Cassandra has more projects than me.
My pathetic project page

As I'm sure you all are aware, I haven't really met a social network I didn't like (except maybe MySpace.) But most are about socializing (Facebook) or networking (LinkedIn) - as the name would imply. Ravelry is, to my knowledge, the only social networking site that does it all - socializing, networking, information storage, downloadable content, education, and on, and on, and on.

So, for the techy folks in our audience, you need to know about this site because it's broken new ground. For the crafters, you need to go out there and join (if you haven't already.)  Find me and friend me! My Ravelry handle is "alexinmadison" and Cassandra's is "SpookyRedHead."

- Alex

Worlds Collide

As we've mentioned here and there, Alex and I work at Company X. It is a big place, very corporate, very typical. We are creatives in a sea of non-creatives. Sometimes that can be a little lonely and, occasionally, frustrating. But, there are moments when we hit the happiness jackpot... and it keeps us sane. Yesterday we had one of those moments.

First some background: A few years back, we did an ad campaign that featured squirrels. There were huge squirrels on billboards, small ones on mailers, millions of them on newspaper inserts, and chattering squirrels on radio ads. The "sales" response rate was respectable, but the emotional response it generated was amazing. It was the only time we've ever had customers show up in our lobby looking to meet our creative/marketing staff, and to see if they could get their hands on more printed copies. The most notable of these visitors were the local firefighters from Ladder 2 who showed up, in full gear, after having responded to a call across the street. We were so proud. Then sales started dropping, and reluctantly we had to move on to a new, non-squirrel campaign. But, we always hoped to resurrect the squirrels again at some point.

Our Spokesquirrel: Chopper Crazypaws

Time shift to this past summer: Our senior-management team was out in the field. They were visiting offices around the country and they kept hearing how much people loved the squirrels and hoped to see them again. When they came back and reported this to marketing, a testing plan was hatched. Fourth quarter this year, we pulled out a sample group to send a "squirrel" version against our (non-squirrel) control. I am sad to report that the control was the winner and the squirrels will not be gracing billboards anytime soon. But, at the end of the day, it was amazing that customers had such an emotional tie to these "characters" that we actually took the time to test the campaign again.

What does this have to do with crafting, you ask? Well, as a result of this latest squirrel test, one of our customers sent us some hand-made goodness. I'm telling you the truth! Because she was responding to a "holiday card" (which was a thinly disguised sales message about our latest promotion) she sent us a crocheted angel ornament AND a crocheted squirrel magnet! The "card" that she was responding to was co-signed by the president of our company and our spokes-squirrel, Chopper Crazypaws - so she wanted to send both a gift. How sweet is that?

Crocheted Squirrel Magnet on Whiteboard
Crocheted Angel Ornament in Corporate Setting
Like the title of this post says, worlds collide. As marketing people, Alex and I are just amazed at how fond people are of a silly promotional tool like the squirrels. As crafters, we are especially touched by this gesture from one, loyal and sweet customer. It is one thing to give a gift, yet another to give such a thoughtful hand-made gift. So...Miss Nancy from Indiana, thank you! You are a treasure.


The Convertible Room

When children leave home, parents have one of two reactions. One is "clear out the kids 'room, we're putting in a pool table and wet bar!" and the other is "don't touch the shrine - junior might want to come home at some point."

Not my kid's room (it wasn't this nice, frankly)

I had an interesting conundrum when my only child left home. I was living in a rental that I didn't really like so I had it in my head that I would be moving at some point. When you're not really attached to the space you live in, it's not likely that you'll start planning what to do with specific rooms.  I cleaned it (frankly, it needed a firehose,) and I packed/stored or got rid of a lot of things. But, otherwise, I didn't think much about it.

I'm not really the "shrine" sort of person, at least not in regards to my child's stuff, and I knew my kid wasn't coming home for at least 6 years so, when I moved 6 months later, I could do whatever I wanted. I made the "extra room" a guest room.

Not the actual daybed I had, but a reasonable facsimile

You know what happens with guest rooms? They sit. Empty. For months on end. A forlorn place with bits of furniture and nothing "personal" in them. Then, one day, someone decides to come visit and you have to clean out all the stuff you chucked in the room to get it out of the way. They're just giant black holes.

Lo and behold, six years hence, my kid came home. Imagine that! So, for 18 months, my guest room had a (sort of) guest in it. And, when he left for the second time, I vowed to make the room something useful.

I freakin' LOVE this bed. It's amazing.
Regardless of what I wanted the room to be, it had to be available as a guest room. So, step one was to purchase a good "roll away" bed. I settled on a queen sized EZ bed. This thing is an engineering marvel and, sometimes, I pull it out and set it up just to wonder at how cool it is.

Step two was to paint the room. I used some paint that was originally earmarked for the kitchen - a nice sunny yellow. It never made it onto the kitchen walls because I could never wrap my head around having to tear the kitchen apart in order to paint. The color is as pretty as I'd hoped and the room is now a bright, lovely place to be.

Step three was to decide what the purpose of the room would be and how to make it "convertible" to a guest room. I decided that the thing I needed most was a craft room. Somewhere where all my stuff could live and I could work comfortably. Making this a craft room also helps me take the first step toward my crafty resolution of sewing more. Killing two birds, as they say.

This table rocks!
So I bought a 6 foot folding "buffet" table for my primary work surface. This has a large area for cutting fabric or laying out projects, plus space for the sewing machine at the end. Then I bought a rolling cart to store things in. I may need another one, but this one seems to be acceptable for now. Finally, I bought a hanging closet organizer and used that to hold my yarn stash. I still need something to hold my jewelry supplies and, at some point, have to decide what to do with my knitting needles and other accessories but, for now, the room seems to be coming together nicely.

Best idea I've had in a while
Meh...not too sexy

 When it's all said and done, it shouldn't take me more than 30 minutes to break down the "craft room" and make it a "guest room." All the elements can be tucked away in the closet that holds the roll-away bed and linens now. And, hopefully, my guests won't mind looking at bright yellow walls.

- Alex

Reporting From the Couch!

Happy Friday everyone!

Guess what? I haven't touched the needle case project since we last spoke on Monday. I did, however, purchase the remaining elements that I was missing so I am all prepared when I do take a moment to sew this up. I just needed some "couch time" this week after the kids went to bed. With that said, I have made some progress on my new knitting project!
Knitting in Progress
There were many projects in the running for my stash of Blackwater Abbey worsted in Autumn. I will give you a peek at those...

I have always wanted to make the Hemlock Ring blanket by Jared Flood:
Hemlock Ring Blanket by Jared Flood
But then I thought that this stiff wool wasn't soft enough for a lap blanket. So I considered the Perth Wrap:
Perth Wrap by Cari Clement
It is beautiful, and ideally suited for this is cables. I'm a bit cabled-out after 2 fully cabled sweaters. I shifted gears and went to a little sweater I have had my eye on for a while. The Goodale by Cecily Glowik MacDonald would possibly look really cute in a more rustic yarn like my Blackwater Abbey:
Goodale Sweater by Cecily Glowick MacDonald
 The pattern actually calls for supersoft madelinetosh pashmina. Maybe it wouldn't hang right in something stiff like wool. I second-guessed my renegade yarn notions and decided to abandon that pattern idea. I went back to the idea of a wrap and logged some serious search time in on ravelry.

The winner is the Vineyard Wrap by J.L. Fleckenstein:

Vineyard Wrap by J.L. Fleckenstein
It suits my yarn perfectly and is something I could really use. I am embarrassed to say that I have a nasty fleece throw given to me by a vendor that I use at my desk during the day. It will be replaced by the Vineyard Wrap as soon as I can bind it off!

So far, this project is going well. At first, I had a bit of trouble with the K1B (knit one back) stitch. This was a stitch I hadn't done before and so of course I turned to youtube for some help. There seems to be quite a few variations on this stitch and I had gone down a few incorrect paths before finding the right one. Luckily, the one I needed was the simplest. Once I got my stitches down, I started to cruise. Well, as much as I can cruise on what is essentially a lace pattern. Let's just take a moment to thank the universe for the progress you can make with size 10 needles.

I have also been giving a lot of thought to my 2011 crafty resolutions. I keep coming back to the same thing. Cooking, cooking, and cooking. This is the area that I want to work on. I love to cook, am a decent cook...but I want to be an even better cook. I don't want to be fearful of things that seem complicated. And, I want to expand my vegetarian repertoire. So there you go...we'll see what happens this year!

Have a great weekend!


As Seen on TV

This guy could sell anything.
Ever since Ron Popeil introduced the viewing audience to the Vegematic and the Pocket Fisherman, products designated as "As Seen on TV" have been ridiculed. Perhaps it was his slightly snake-oil salesman presentation or the fact that the products' claims were often too good to be true, but conventional wisdom was that these products were cheap, flimsy, and didn't deliver the magic that was promised.

I've always been enthralled by advertising. My earliest memory of dissecting an ad was when I was about nine years old. I noticed that a particular brand of cereal was being advertised significantly more often than others, and more than it had been in the past. I confidently informed my mother that the company must be making lots of money because they were advertising more. She replied that it could be the exact opposite - that the cereal may not be selling well so, therefore, the company was trying to make more people aware of the product. And so began my passion for both TV and marketing.

RonCo was the company that innovated what we now call infomercials - long-form advertising of one product - and Ron Popeil, founder of RonCo, was the undisputed prince of the medium. He was tall, handsome in a 1950's sort of way, and purely in love with what he was doing. I miss his big, smiling mug on my TV. I think the last time I saw him do an infomercial it was for a rotisserie grill, and I remembering thinking that it was amazing that he was still shucking his products under the RonCo name some 40 years later. I hope he made millions and millions of dollars.

Waxing nostalgic about infomercials and "As Seen on TV" products is my way of admitting to being a regular buyer of these wonders. As a kid, my mom kept telling me that I didn't want the cool thing I saw on TV because [insert list of excuses that were probably a cover for "we can't afford it."] Perhaps being denied these items is what compels me to buy them now. And, it's not just TV anymore... I've added the much-maligned "Sky Mall" catalog to my cool-product wellspring.

ShamWow really works. As does the screen curtain that replaced the screen door (so the dogs can freely go in and out.) I own an original Vegematic in the box, although I don't use it anymore because I would hate to break it. I never did buy the Ginzu Knives (that can cut through a CAN and then slice a tomato like it was butter) or the Pocket Fisherman. But my most recent purchase may be my best ever.

I woke up at 3:30 a.m. one day with a wicked bout of insomnia. I turned on the TV and got sucked into the infomercial for a vacuum cleaner. As it happens, I needed a vacuum and it didn't take much to convince me that this one might fit the bill. The thing that put me over the edge though was this final promise - "order now and we'll send you - ABSOLUTELY FREE - the Shark Steam Mop!"

As it happens, I had been looking at the Shark Steam Mop for a while. The previous weekend I'd even put one in my cart while shopping at Bed, Bath, and Beyond but eventually put it back because, really, I didn't need to spend $90 on myself the week before Christmas. Now I could get one ABSOLUTELY FREE when I purchased another item I needed!! Really, who could resist this offer? And I could pay in INSTALLMENTS! Oh.My.God.

Since it was the middle of the night, I decided to order online instead of calling in. I won't bore you with the wonders of the online ordering process (they have it down to a science with no fewer than SIX upsells to various other products) but will tell you that, in less than 15 minutes, I was done and anticipating my new products arrival.

The box came on Monday. Surprisingly small considering that it contained not one but two miracle products.  After a short and easy assembly process, I was up and running. I steam-mopped my kitchen floor first and then ran the incredibly quiet* vacuum cleaner in the living room and dining room. Ladies and gents, let me be the first to tell you... The Shark Navigator Vacuum and the Shark Steam Mop are everything they promise and more. And, once again, "As Seen on TV" hasn't let me down.

I kinda want to call my mom and tell her she was wrong.

- Alex

*I'd like to note that the Shark company doesn't even use the quietness of the vacuum as a selling point. I can't imagine why. It is, without a doubt, the quietest vacuum I've ever owned. Of course, it's possible that I've always owned fairly crappy vacuums too...

Love Fades

Happy new year everyone! I hope your celebrations were wonderful.

I was on vacation all last week. The time was spent mostly taking down our holiday decorations, visiting with family and (as much time as I could manage) crafting. I got pretty far on the knitting accessory case that I wrote about here. I am embarrassed to say that what kept me from just finishing it up was a trip to the store for some elastic thread and buttons. Sometimes a girl just doesn't want to leave the house when she has the option of wearing her pajamas all day long.

Unfinished status aside, I am really happy with how it's going thus far. I think I'm going to really like the color choices and fabric textures for years to come. That's one of the problems with things that I make for myself. Sometimes the fabric or yarn that I love, love, love at the time becomes tiresome after a year or so. Recently, I've given this phenomenon a lot of thought. I think that sometimes I get all giddy over busy patterns and bright colors that I forget that my taste will change in time. The "new" me sticks with natural colors and simple patterns. For now ;)

This is where I am at the moment with this project:

Detail of robin embroidery.
Detail of robin's nest.
Pieces all cut out and ready to be seamed up.
After I get the supplies that I need from the store, it should sew up nicely. Hopefully my design will work as well in reality as it does on paper!

The other thing I wanted to tell you about is the knitting project that I got started on this week. I did a lot of research, hemmed and hawed, and then made a decision. I'm not going to reveal the whole enchilada today...but, here is a sneak peek at what I'm working on:

New project on the needles!
Alex's post last Friday about her crafty resolutions has me thinking, I might need to come up with some of my own. So, I'll be working on those as well as my unfinished projects until I talk to you again.

– Cassandra