Thursday, April 23, 2009

Taming the Acrylic Beast

Inevitably, whenever I am knitting in a group, the discussion of acrylic yarns comes up. Now there are some decent acrylics and acrylic blends out there but this discussion is usually about the "cheap" acrylics (I will not mention brands but you know what I am talking about).
Don't get me wrong, I love and would prefer knitting with good yarn. I recently made a baby blanket out of a bamboo yarn. It was wonderful to knit with and was so soft and pretty. I have splurged on merino wool, again it was great to knit with and feels wonderful.
But here's the thing, I happen to have a fair amount of that "cheap" acrylic. I have an "in" with a thrift store. They save all their yarn for me. And since I want them to continue to do so, I tend to buy whatever they have, I take the "cheap" acrylic so that when the mother load comes in, (some wonderful knitter who has gone to the big yarn store in the sky, who's clueless family would just be happy to unload her stash, choosing to fight over who's going to get the jewelry, not the yarn) they'll call me.
Now, there are many uses for this yarn - afghans (it makes very warm blankets), toys, handbags, flowers - but you wouldn't normally think to actually make a garment from it. It's kind of scratchy and has no drape. It is a little bit harder on your hands but I find working with recycled sari yarn more taxing on my joints, personally. I have had some that I just couldn't knit with so I have donated that to schools and senior centers. But for the most part, I really can't bear to part with most yarns. There is always something I can do with it - make pom-poms to decorate gifts, etc.

So I decided to do a little experimenting. I knit up 2 exact samples. One sample I just washed (in warm water with fabric softener) and dried (on the delicate cycle of my dryer). The other I killed. You heard me right, I killed it. Killing is basically ironing the fabric with steam. I put the entire weight of the iron onto the sample and steamed the bejesus out of it until it had no life left in it. Then I washed and dried it as I had done the first one.

Washing with fabric softener and drying only on the first sample did get rid of some of the stiffness and scratch. It was good to know for taking care of afghans. But it did little for the drape and it was still rough. (I wish I had feel-a-vision).

This shows the killed sample on the left and the washed only sample on the right. And in the pictures below, the killed sample (left) actually has a nice drape to it while the washed only sample (right) is still fairly stiff and unwielding.
So maybe there is some hope for this "cheap" acrylic. The key would be to make a big enough gauge swatch, kill it, wash and dry it and THEN get your gauge. The killed swatch has 7 sts X 10 rows =2" and the other swatch has 8 st X 12 rows = 2" so it makes a difference.

I can definitely see the application for some casual winter sweaters.

Now excuse me while I hunt up some acrylic.

Saturday, April 18, 2009


I have been hard at work and here is a teaser: my inspiration board.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Etsy Update

For those of you following my etsy store (, first of all, thanks. Second, the "shop" is undergoing some major revisions right now. The "new and improved" stitchplay will be up by summer with some exciting new designs.

Until then, thank you for your patience and patronage.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Sewing Lessons I am destined to NEVER learn

I would call myself an experienced sewer, I have been doing it a long time and have done a variety of projects. However, it seems that there are some lessons that I am destined to repeat. Chalk it up to stubborness, everlasting optimism or just plain stupidity (I fear it is the latter) but here is my list:

1. Pattern sizing is wonky (it's not my body, I swear it is the pattern). Make a mockup before you cut into that expensive/favorite fabric to get the proper fit.

2. Pattern directions don't always give you the most professional look. Patterns are geared toward the lowest common denomenator, meaning a beginner. Read through them and adjust your methods accordingly to get the best results.

3. Take time to look where you are cutting before you actually cut. Pick up the whole garment and look because once you cut that perfectly done french seam that was lying under that seam you were trying to trim, there is no fixing it (well you can fix it...)

4. Irons are hot. Irons produce steam which is hot. Pressing the steam button when your hand is an inch away from the iron will burn.

5. It IS possible to sew fingers on the sewing machine. A sewing needle can penetrate a nail and come out the other side of your finger. And when you are looking stupidly at your finger (or thumb as the case may be) which you just harpooned, and carefully extract it from its position, thankful that the stupid needle (yes, now it is the needle's fault) didn't break off IN your finger, remember that it is going to hurt. A lot. Keep Neosporin and band-aids handy.

And the most important lesson of all that eludes me:

6. Being in a hurry is mutally exclusive from doing a job well. Most of the above mistakes come from being in a hurry. You have a picture in your head of you wearing the finished project, it is going to be gorgeous and everyone asks you about it. They are awed by your skills and creativity. But to get from that picture in your head to the fabulous finished project, you need to slow down. Take your time and do it right.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Book Review - Knitting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti

First - a disclaimer. I do not have the "updated" version of this book. But after briefly looking through one my guess is the only thing that is updated is the typesetting/font and they probably took out references to her other book "The Universal Yarn Finder" which would be obsolete by now and her videos.

This is not a book to learn to knit from. There are many other "how-to" knit books/leaflets/online tutorial/videos that do a better job of actually teaching you the mechanics of knitting. Use those sources.

Having said that, I did like this book despite reading a poor review of it years ago. I wish I had this book when I first started knitting, back in the stone ages when there was no internet, yarn stores had 3 types of yarns in a very limited color palette and the big book stores had, at best, 5 titles on the subject. Thank goodness we have come a long way since then!

What I like about this book is that it helps the knitter THINK about their knitting, from looking at the way the model is posed (can you see the whole sweater?) to questioning the written instruction. She gives a new knitter the tools to really take control of his/her knitting. She explains what happens with different cast-on's and bind-offs, decreases and increases, short-rows, duplicate stitches, color work, fixing mistakes and finishing. She has directions for a few stitch patterns and a couple of practice patterns. I like her attitude that it's your knitting and you can do whatever you want and these are the tools that will help you achieve it.

There were some things I didn't like about this book. I thought the chapter on knitting needles was a little excessive but when this was first written there wasn't as many choices as we have today. She doesn't like set-in sleeves and calls them unflattering (even more so than drop shoulder!) which I disagree with. I make set-in sleeves all the time and find them flattering. Drop shoulder sleeves just look sloppy and they have their place (in children's sweaters would be a good example) but not in my wardrobe. She does have a bias toward circular needles and knitting from the top down but is up front about it. I also found it a little OCD the way she wanted to put notes or "idiot" tags all over her knitting and to measure all the time. A pad of paper and pencil have served me just as well for keeping track of inc/dec, rows, etc. But to each their own.

Overall, I think this is a good book for a new knitter to have to understand the "whys" of knitting and not just the "how-to" so that the knitter can be in the driver seat.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Thoughts on food

Mmmmm. Right now my house smells of fresh baked blueberry muffins.

Food has been on my mind a lot lately. People think I am a picky eater. In one respect I agree. There are very few restaurants I like, I eat no beef, pork and very little seafood.

In another respect I would disagree. I am not a picky eater. I just like good food and I just don't think that the generic selection at most restaurants is appetizing. Most places think a bunch of lettuce, some carrot shavings and a tomato doused with half a bottle of dressing is a salad.

Now that I am older and realize that I am not immortal, I have been trying to take care of my body. I am hoping to use it for another 50 years and I want it to be in good working condition for that entire time. After seeing friends go through some health conditions, I was not surprised to find that most of the diseases and ills of our country are preventable. They are the direct result of lifestyle choices (overeating, smoking, drinking, lack of exercise, etc). Look how many contestants go on The Biggest Loser taking tons of medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, etc. and by the end of the show most of them are off of all medications.

Slowly over the past 5 years I have been changing my habits. The first was to adopt a regular exercise program. After 5 years, I still don't like exercising, but I don't hate it either. I like how I feel after I exercise and that keeps me going. Then I gave up soft drinks. After a trip to a nutritionist I started balance my meals and portions (it's ELMO- eat less more often) based on my age, gender and activity level. It was an eye-opener to see just how big (or should I say little)a portion is suppose to be. After several months of eating this way, I found my energy level to be good and I was never hungry. And, I no longer have that bloating feel after meals.

I always loved to bake, but in the past I hadn't cooked much. I've started doing that and have been trying to use mostly organic/fresh foods. I am enjoying the process of trying new recipes too. My grocery bill is probably higher because I buy organic, which is usually more expensive than non-organics (organic milk is $6 a gallon!) I am still trying to gauge portions, etc so as not to have too much, if any waste (i.e. leftovers which usually end up getting thrown out since my husband would never pack his lunch and my son gets lunch at school). But I think once I get the hang of things, even though I am buying more expensive foods, I think my food bill will decrease. Even if it doesn't, I don't care. I will cut corners or do without something else rather than give my family crappy food. Food is what fuels our bodies. The right food can keep you healthy and the wrong food can make you sick. Sure, those prepackaged foods that are packed with preservatives and chemicals may make for a cheap lunch now, but will you be paying for it later in medical expenses?

And a side effect of all this fresh cooking and baking is that the food actually tastes good!